For your consideration, this time, we place before you CDs called: Some Other Time; Another Time, Another Place; and Places. Then, a little time in one of my favorite places: the area Under The Radar, for a delightful debut of a new singer.
A thoughtful version of "Some Other Time" from On the Town provides a title song for Diane Schuur's latest CD and it also includes one memory from some other time and place - a homemade recording of her singing "September in the Rain" at age 10, already evidencing a style and polish. The singer's repertoire here has no recent songs, but is from some other time: it's all songs she remembers hearing while growing up and wanted to revisit. Well, the time has come and what comes through is real affection for the material which is largely from Broadway and movie musicals.
To start off, there are two songs from the Gershwins ("Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "Beginner's Luck") that are handled with a bright and breezy, light and easy confidence and solid musicianship. Irving Berlin's songbook also gets two visits, an exploratory "Blue Skies" with a smashing jazz ending and the Annie Get Your Gun ballad, "They Say It's Wonderful." The latter is especially satisfying and a good example of the increasing tenderness and depth that has come into the phrasing of the later work of this artist who used to stand out mostly for showier and brassier tours de force. By far the most moving track is not a show tune, but a heart-touching "Danny Boy." It shows drama and a level of involvement not matched anywhere else.
Working with a skillful quartet, Diane (known to friends and fans by her preferred nickname Deedles) lets the musicians take the spotlight for some generous instrumental breaks. Randy Porter is pianist, Scott Steed is bassist, Reggie Jackson is the drummer and Dan Balmer is on guitar. On "It's Magic" and "The Good Life" the singer takes over the piano duties herself, and her phrasing seems especially free and in-the-moment on these. "The Good Life" doesn't sit quite as comfortably in her voice in spots, but generally she sounds fine and dandy on this album. There are some cool, inventive jazz vocal adornments and a few high sustained notes that are especially pure (wish there were more of those).
Whether she's letting things simmer, turning up the heat, or staying a bit cool, Diane Schuur is always a pro worth a listen. New Yorkers can see the dynamic Grammy-winning jazz star perform at The Blue Note this week in a show celebrating this album's release, unless they prefer to catch her next week in Austria, or wait for ... some other time.
Pull up a chair to your speakers - or slip on your headphones - and take a musical trip with stops in France, Ireland and across "America" (courtesy of the wistful Paul Simon story-song). James R. Fitzpatrick, Sally Martin's versatile pianist, co-producer and creator of most arrangements on Another Time, Another Place also wrote its noble but passionate title song. Three varied Irish songs and two done in French are part of an eclectic program that also includes Stephen Sondheim's "So Many People," ardently sung, and a rich and swirling "I Had a Dream About You" from Maury Yeston's December Songs song cycle. Show Boat's "Bill" becomes a heavier affair when combined with the torch champion deluxe, "My Man."
There's an appealing formality about some tracks on this album, with its deeply felt performances of songs that have some serious subject matter. Only occasionally distancing with this approach, the feel is elegant and sincerely earnest. This tone is also due very much to the recital-like ambience created by having the spare accompaniment of Fitzpatrick and cellist Deborah M. Brudvig. These very able musicians add grace and depth to the proceedings. What a wonderful change of pace to hear someone taking on such a varied program and make it all work. Sally has a lovely soprano voice that can also be stirring and project strength.
The program on the new album ends with a powerful number from Joseph Thalken and Tom Jones' score for Harold and Maude, "A Chance to Sing." Like the rest of the selections, it's done with real integrity and has weight. Sally, who is based in Washington D.C., has only one previous CD, the splendid Journeys from 1998. Journeys has more tracks (18 as opposed to 12) and some spunk and humor not on the agenda with the new album. However, the two have some things in common: French cabaret standbys, a wide range of styles and material from show tunes to pop-folk, and heartfelt singing.
Sally Martin can sing her heart out and when she's more reserved, she's not afraid to show her heart. I hope she won't wait the better part of a decade for her third release. There's a welcome place on my shelf for another CD like Another Time, Another Place.
The Places Andrew Heller sings the praises of in his latest CD are mostly within the United States, from Kander and Ebb's well-traveled ode to "New York, New York" to "Houston, Houston, Houston." The trained Texan tenor began singing in his younger years and virtualy took an intermission to work in the field of technology for over thirty years. This is his sixth album, with prior efforts exploring country music, Broadway hits and Christmas songs. He has some pleasant qualities to his voice, along with enthusiasm mixed with an old-fashioned stalwartness. Having listened to his other, sturdier work, it's surprising that in places on Places, too often he seems to be reaching for notes or struggling. I often find myself wishing he were singing in keys a bit lower. Sometimes all is well for quite a spell, and then suddenly we're in awkward territory.
Andrew is definitely not allergic to schmaltz and his work can definitely fall under a category once (still?) called "easy listening." It's light fare, with strict tempi. In fact, you could probably convince someone that the tracks, with their sentimental arrangements, some with cooing background vocalists, were recorded forty years ago when this kind of non-caloric music was being marketed big time. When gently crooning versus trying for rangier, bigger moments ("Spanish Eyes"), there is a certain appeal. If you have a soft spot for soft music that's easy-to-hum, you may find yourself smiling.
Songs with a country flavor are more convincing, but one senses just a laidback joy in singing rather than an attempt at dramatic interpretation that might be cause to alter the very even flow of the nod-along melody. Still, Andrew seems happy to go to all kinds of Places except dangerous emotional territory, and a side trip to "Camelot" is in his itinerary.
I've listened to Andrew's far more satisfying albums, including two filled with show tunes: between these are three more Lerner & Loewe choices, half a dozen Richard Rodgers melodies, two picks from Kismet and other classics like "They Say It's Wonderful." Broadway Love (originally released on his own label and now reissued on DiamonDisc) is a set of conservatively rendered, respectful theatre classics that mostly suit his strong suit - formal, "legit" singing. My Beloved: Music to Fall in Love With is an interesting case, a late 2007 release that has almost the same set list as an early CD called Be My Love but is not a reissue - it's a completely new recording with different arrangements. Both albums have mostly gratifying vocals that find the singer more creditable - and credible as a leading man type. His Christmas Wonder has reverence, good cheer and good singing as Andrew handles his holiday repertoire which features the usual suspects. These have arrangements that have more class, emphasis on the band rather than the bland, even though there are a few key overlaps in musicians associated with the projects.
Places boasts a sizable group of musicians (25 listed in all) and there's some spirited playing on "Chicago" and nice muted brass on some cuts. Income from downloads of a cheery, nostalgic "California, Here I Come" at iTunes is donated to the Red Cross in its efforts helping victims of the wildfires in that state. Andrew's previous albums are available at some usual online sites, but this new one is currently being sold only through his website www.heller.com.
UNDER THE RADAR
Sometimes an unfamiliar voice sounds so poised and professional on disc that you wonder if there are other, earlier recordings that were missed. Where has this person been until now? The answer, in this case, is simple: she's been in high school.
The microphone seems to love some voices. Diana McCorry has one of those voices. Her sound is disarming, pretty and fresh. Relaxed and low-key, she doesn't belt at all and is a bit breathy (she says a big influence is Julie London). All the songs here were written by her musician father, Tim McCorry, who is her subtle and very effective pianist and has his own CDs, too. They are joined by musicians who do ace work throughout: sax player Paul Carlon, drummer Anthony Pinciotti, bass player Gary Wang and guitarist Tony Romano, who is also the arranger, music director and producer of this CD, where everything works.
Mostly mellow moods don't become lush mush or somnambulistic slowpoke slides here. The instrumental solos are tasteful but have some bite and are part of lightly swinging charts that serve the conversational songs well. The rhymes are mostly plain and the lyrics are not especially complicated, but Diana's youthful sincerity projecting a sense of discovery makes that work to her advantage. When she sings about discovering love or being sure that dreams come true, it sounds like she really believes it and could make you believe, too. There are some attractive turns of phrase; in "Who Do You think You Are?" there's the observation that "you drive my heart like your old beat-up car." Making a different kind of point is, "I may not be right, but I'll be right there" (in the sweet "A Song for Cody").
The sly, quicker-tempoed "I Blame You for the Smile Upon My Face" is a fun and addictive track. With an encouraging philosophy about the natural ability to get through life by expressing and feeling love, "It Isn't That Hard At All" is a perfect little gem of a song. Again, Diana makes it convincing because she sounds totally convinced. As for me, I'm totally convinced that this very young lady has a bright future.